Extension connects producers to mental health resources
VALLEY PARK, Miss. -- Between her job and her home, Tracey Porter has not had a break from dealing with flooding in the last six months.
Porter is the deputy director of the Warren County Emergency Management Agency, and her husband, Rodney, farms in the southern Mississippi Delta. Excessive rain last winter and spring kept 250,000 acres of farmland out of production this year. During the time when he would normally prepare for planting season, Rodney Porter was building sandbag levees to protect flood waters from invading their home. She helped him when she was not on the clock assisting other affected people in her community.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of physical and mental stress for the last few months. With me working, I never get to get away from it. I go home to it and go to work with it,” Tracey Porter said. “Rodney is still getting paid right now because the producer he works for was able to pay his men for the rest of the year, but we don’t know what next year will bring.”
South Mississippi Delta farmer Parker Adcock discusses the effects of flooding on his farm this year.
That uncertainty is one example of the many uncontrollable variables producers face each year.
There are many sources of stress, depression and mental health challenges in agriculture: market fluctuation, tariffs, trade wars, equipment, animal crop conditions and fear of losing the farm. These conditions are taxing not only on farmers, but also on their families.
In a poll recently conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation, three in four rural adults expressed a need to reduce the stigma associated with mental health in the agricultural community. The Mississippi State University Extension Service recently received a $310,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $1.1 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration with the goal of addressing this need.
While this initiative is known as “PReventing Opioid Misuse in the South East,” or PROMISE, Extension health specialist David Buys said there is more to the program than drug abuse prevention.
“There is a stigma around seeking help for mental health challenges, but that’s just one of several reasons why some producers skip getting the help they need,” Buys said. “Seeking help means being away from the farm. They don’t have time to get any intensive help, especially during planting and harvest seasons. Those are understandable challenges producers face as it relates to getting help for any health-related issue.”
More than 100 Extension agents have received Mental Health First Aid training to help farmers manage these stressful situations.
“Mental Health First Aid training helps our agents recognize signs of distress and the challenges that people in the field may be facing, so they can help connect people to appropriate forms of care,” Buys said. “I am proud that we have support for mental health first aid and made this a mandatory part of our Extension agents’ training.”
He added that it is important for producers affected by any mental health challenges to find a way to address them before their job performance or relationships suffer or they look toward remedies that can lead to addiction.
“You have to be well both physically and mentally to have healthy crops and a healthy economic return on your investment,” Buys said. “Our Extension agents report that they are better able to recognize signs of challenges facing the producers we serve and more aware of how to connect them to appropriate help.”